John Wick‘s Blood Oath is one of the most important aspects of the franchise’s mythology. In the first movie, John Wick struck a deal with crime lord Viggo Tarasov, who said that John could retire if he completed an “impossible task” — a single night of murder and mayhem that would swiftly consolidate Viggo’s power over his competitors, making him one of the top crime lords in New York City. Determined to leave his violent life behind, Wick seeks the aid of Santino D’Antonio, whose family sits in one of the 12 chairs of the elite “High Table” of global crime lords. John takes a blood oath to garner Santino’s assistance in completing his impossible task.
Outside John Wick, “blood oath” is commonly used in the real world to pertain to an unbreakable promise. Historically speaking, several cultures had various forms of blood oaths that involved the actual letting of blood, sometimes mixing it with a handshake as a sign of commitment. In the world of John Wick, it’s a little of both. When committing to a blood oath, the pledge presses a bloody thumb to the right half of a circular device called a marker. This is a commitment of blood, meaning the debtor is swearing to fulfill the oath with the blood symbolizing the penalty for breaking a blood oath.
John Wick’s Blood Oath, Retirement, & Return
After John Wick’s blood oath seals his commitment to Santino, they got to work eliminating Viggo’s competition. As Viggo would come to say in John Wick, “The bodies he buried that day laid the foundation of what we are now.” John then buried his guns and gold under cement in his basement, and settled down with Helen for a little over five years. Sadly, John Wick’s wife Helen died of an illness, arranging for a puppy to be sent to John with a note: “you still need something, someone, to love. So start with this, because the car doesn’t count.” Dumb luck would lead Ioseph Tarasov to steal John’s car and kill his dog.
Forced out of retirement, John goes to underworld assassin hotel, The Continental, to speak with the manager, Winston. Winston warns him: “Have you thought this through? I mean, chewed down to the bone? You got out once. You dip so much as a pinky back into this pond, you may well find something reaches out and drags you back into its depths.” But this was personal. Ioseph had stolen his “opportunity to grieve unalone” when he killed his dog, so John was left to process his loss the only other way he knew how, and it involved the bodies of 77 mobsters, including Viggo and Ioseph.
Unfortunately, as Winston said, something reached out to grab John. Only a few days later, Santino shows up at his doorstep to redeem the blood oath. Santino wants John to kill his sister, Gianna, hoping to take the High Table seat she inherited from their father. He calls in the blood oath to accomplish this because it can be fulfilled without him drawing up a contract for assassination, leaving a paper trail.
John Wick’s Blood Oath Made Retirement Impossible
When John refuses, telling Santino he’s retired, Santino burns his house to the ground. Knowing the only way to satisfy the blood oath is with blood, his or someone else’s, John acquiesces. After John’s completed his mission, Santino opens a contract on his head in a public gesture of vengeance, even though John satisfied the oath.
John comes after Santino, forcing him to flee to The Continental for protection, where Winston makes him press his thumb to the other half of John’s marker as well as in his log book to close out the blood oath. When John tracks him down, he shoots him in the head, violating the first rule of the Continental and forcing Winston to make him excommunicado, stripping him from access to all Continental facilities and amenities. Meanwhile, the Russian and Chinese seats on the High Table order a $14 million international contract on John Wick.
Winston gives John a blood oath marker and warns him he can only give him an hour’s head start. In John Wick: Chapter 2, there isn’t any explicit explanation for the marker John is given. It’s assumed to be John’s original marker from his blood oath with Santino. In the first movie, John loses his wife and his dog. In Chapter Two, John loses his car, his house, and his phone, along with the last images and video of Helen. After John is excommunicado, losing his access to the underworld’s immense resources. However, with the blood oath satisfied, he’s finally completely severed from his old life, owing nothing to anyone — or so it seems.
John Wick’s Blood Oath With Sofia Explained
However, the blood oath returns in John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum. John survived an increased price on his head from the High Table and no longer having access to Continental facilities. Although his blood oath connected to Santino is spent, he still has the one given to him by Winston. After escaping New York using a “ticket”, a cross that connects to his upbringing, he travels to Casablanca. There he meets Sofia (Halle Berry), a fellow dog lover whom he has an open blood oath with.
This blood oath is a result of John helping Sofia hide her daughter from her enemies, presumably because she was being actively hunted at some point. John cashes it in to have Sofia take her to Berrada (Jerome Flynn), who in turn leads him to High Table overseer The Elder (Saïd Taghmaoui). Once Berrada was dead (killed by Sofia for shooting one of her dogs), this blood oath was over.
Markers Have Become Incredibly Significant In John Wick
Even though the unbreakable promise is an overused trope in action, spy, thriller, and heist movies, what makes the John Wick blood oath stand out are its colorful manifestations, namely the markers. Every one of John Wick’s markers represents a promise which entails death once broken, but it can also symbolize freedom. For enterprising assassins, their record of completed blood oath markers may also serve as a measure of lethality and ability to fulfill contracts.
Additionally, the John Wick blood oath marker’s similarity to a locket underscores the inherent intimacy of sharing an unbreakable vow. Indeed, those who can viably be called John Wick’s friends are also assassins with whom he shares these blood oaths. Through morbidly whimsical elements like the beautiful and intricate blood oath markers, the world of John Wick maintains a distinct stylishness that puts it above other contemporary tales of revenge. This will doubtless continue as John Wick: Chapter 4 reveals more about the global underworld of elite assassins.